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You’re Probably Dehydrated and Don’t Know It

If you haven’t had enough water, you tend to get a headache. This is fairly common knowledge, yet water ends up toward the bottom of our drink choices. Many of us don’t give a second thought to the beverages we put in our bodies. It’s hard to avoid the endless lists of tasty teas, boosting energy drinks, and sodas in every store across America. And it’s even harder to choose water instead of them.

The reasons for drinking water are far more complex and important than one might realize. Instead of it being just one of many options to enjoy with a meal, it’s a substance that your body requires in order to function. So, why do so many of us deprive our systems of this vital liquid? Research has proven that up to 75% of people are walking around dehydrated and may not even know it. On March 22, people across the globe will be observing World Water Day, so there’s no better time to learn about dehydration, how it affects you, and what you can do about it. You might be surprised to see just how important it is to your overall health and well-being.


The Science Behind It

When we think of what makes up our body’s composition, we first note a few things: bones, muscle, and fat. Within each of these elements, though, and throughout our entire physical makeup, is water. As much as 60% of our bodies are made up of water and a specific mixture of electrolytes, and water is largely responsible for the proper functioning of our body’s organs.

Water is absorbed from within our gastrointestinal tract with the kidneys working to flush out other toxins that can’t be used. Think of it as a cycle of sorts, where a constant influx of water is required to keep the system functioning. Some might think that any sort of liquid will suffice to offer our organs what they need, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

So, what exactly does adequate water intake do, besides prevent a nasty headache at inopportune times? Here are just a few ways in which drinking water will help your body:

  • Believe it or not, water helps regulate your bowel movements. When the body doesn’t have enough liquid to perform its normal functions, it pulls moisture from your stool, making it more difficult and uncomfortable to go to the bathroom.
  • It won’t necessarily make you lose weight, but physicians note that choosing to drink it instead of a high-calorie beverage can help you to engage in a more balanced diet. Foods that contain a lot of water are also absorbed more slowly by the body, allowing you to feel fuller for longer.
  • Basic bodily functions require regular water intake, including the production of saliva, digestion, absorption of nutrients, and the ability to regulate your body temperature. Your brain even communicates with your kidneys based on your level of hydration, instructing them whether it’s time for you to urinate or not.
  • Individuals who exercise and are specifically looking to build muscle will benefit from consistent water intake. Dehydration can lead to the shrinking of cells, meaning that the benefits you reaped from your last gym session might not last.

It’s clear that dehydration can play a major role in one’s overall health, but how exactly do you know if you’re drinking enough fluids? For many, a headache isn’t the first or only sign of chronic dehydration. Depending on the activities you’re engaging in, your water needs may vary quite a bit.


Am I Dehydrated?

There’s a good chance that you haven’t had enough water to drink if you’re feeling off and aren’t quite sure why. Individuals may often visit their physician due to low energy or frequent headaches, only to find that more liquids in their diet is the solution. Dehydration mostly results from an inadequate fluid intake, but other issues like diarrhea, excessive sweating, or even frequent urination can drain you of the vital fluids you need.

Depending on the age of the individual, dehydration symptoms may take many forms. Infants and small children may show a decrease in urination, crying without producing any tears, or becoming overly irritable. Adults tend to exhibit the more common symptoms of dehydration, including fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and darker than normal urine.

Hydration will resolve these issues in most cases, but if you’ve experienced dark or bloody stool, can’t keep fluids down, or have had diarrhea for over 24 hours, it’s advised that you see a physician. It’s key to address these symptoms and avoid the other health issues brought on by severe dehydration.

Redefining The 8-Ounce Rule

It’s been repeated for decades that adults should drink around 64 ounces of water per day to stay properly hydrated. The general rule we stick to is drinking eight 8-ounce glasses, but is that guideline really appropriate for everyone? A review in 2002 decided to shine some light on this age-old advice and found some interesting results. Heinz Valtin, a professor of Physiology and Neurobiology, pored through study after study to see if there was any truth to what people call the “8×8” rule of water intake. His results found that it’s actually not proven to be an appropriate guideline for all individuals.

What the 64-ounce rule neglects is the fact that many people obtain a decent amount of fluid simply through the foods they eat. Some more obvious choices, like watermelon, are certainly beneficial when it comes to hydrating your body, but even options like soups can help with your overall liquid intake. While it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to drink fewer fluids, a 2004 report from the National Academies of Sciences noted that Americans tend to get 20% of their daily fluids through what they eat.

The importance of drinking actual H2O shouldn’t be understated, yet it’s only fair to recognize that there are other beverages that can contribute toward keeping your body hydrated each and every day. Milk, juice, tea, and even coffee can all work to hydrate your cells and promote normal bodily functions, and while it’s likely not recommended that you consume only these drinks, you don’t necessarily have to worry about also taking in 64-ounces of water on top of your normal beverage choices.


Looking at Every Variable

The question still remains: how much water should we drink each day? Interestingly enough, in 1945, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommended that adults consume around 85 ounces per day, between beverages and food intake. The guideline of 64 ounces has been around for quite some time, but the jury’s still out on what is the ideal amount. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no recommendation when it comes to pure water intake, so downing bottle after bottle of H2O may not be the right thing for your body after all.

The CDC does go on to state that there are recommendations for total fluid intake across all beverages and meals, proving how vitally important hydration is. It’s crucial to consider a range of factors when determining how much water to drink as well. Your age and physical activity will play a large role as you consider your hydration, too. Younger children who have been indoors all afternoon certainly won’t need to drink as much water as an adult who’s been exercising outside in the summertime. So, use your best judgment about how much water to drink over the course of any given day, rather than sticking to one strict rule.

Sadly, access to clean water is still a major problem across the world. Reports indicate that every 1 in 9 people across the world aren’t able to safely drink water due to contaminants that may be present. World Water Day may work to bring light to this issue during the month of March, but there’s a larger issue at hand. Those who have the ability to drink clean water may want to consider just how significant of an impact hydration has on their health and well-being.

Drinking more water doesn’t have to be an arduous task. You can keep hydrated by taking small steps each day and staying cognizant of your body’s intake. Try replacing one soda with a glass of water instead, or purchase a reusable water bottle that allows you to easily track how much water you’re drinking. Hydration impacts the survival of your cells, your general health, and even just how you feel on a daily basis—so you’ll be rewarded for putting in the effort to stay on top of it.

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